“On Evan’s very first brew day here, he got heatstroke.” -Craig Frymark
Simply put, local upstart Barrier Brewing is killing it. The year-old, two-man operation has already made a name for itself by brewing an impressive variety of notably well-crafted beers on a tiny single-barrel brewing system, out of a small garage-like space in Oceanside, New York.
Evan Klein, an avid homebrewer and Sixpoint Craft Ales veteran, founded the brewery in June 2010. He did all the brewing, selling and delivering himself until January of this year, when he joined forces with Craig Frymark, another Sixpoint vet, doubling the outfit’s manpower and tripling its brew output.
It’s a lot of hard work. Thirteen hour brew days. Navigating the chaos of city traffic on delivery days. But Evan and Craig are doing something right. Less than a year after Barrier’s launch, they were awarded the title of Best Brewery in New York State at the TAP New York Craft Beer and Food Fest in April. And you’ll have no problem finding beer lovers in the borough who are willing to wax poetic about Barrier’s brews.
We visited Evan and Craig at the Oceanside brewery to get the story behind Barrier.
So you guys have developed quite the reputation for brewing a lot of different beers in a really small space, and for doing it all yourselves. Can you tell me a little bit about how it all works?
Evan: Our goal is to brew as many different beers as we can. We don’t want to have a flagship beer, and we don’t want to have seasonal beers. We’ll brew stouts and porters in summer because we like to drink them, and also because our production is so small that a batch of stout is only going to add up to a few kegs – so we don’t have to worry about sitting on this huge inventory.
We’re brewing seventeen different beers now. We have four or five Belgian styles ales, a California common — which is our only lager right now — IPAs, the Brown Ale, a Porter, an ESB, the Cairn – our smoked Scottish ale…
Our goal is to have thirty or forty beers. And we won’t even stop there. We brew all the time. We’ve probably brewed five hundred batches on this tiny system this year. We just like making beer. We want to brew as many styles as we can, and we want to have lots of styles available all the time to keep people interested. That’s the goal.
Craig: We try to keep mixing it up. There’s only so much control you have over what your customers want, but we’ve tried to combat having a ‘flagship’ beer by aligning ourselves with a lot of great beer bars and restaurants who like to keep rotating through different varieties. That really allows us to do what we really want to do, which is to produce a wide range of styles and flavors and keep mixing it up all the time. Every week we’re brewing eleven or twelve different beers.
We try as much as possible to make every beer as great as the next one. When people ask us about our favorites, we say, “All of them.” And we genuinely mean that. We really do love every recipe. And fortunately for the most part the people drinking our beers seem to agree. So hopefully that’ll keep going and we can avoid allocating 40% of our production each month to one or two beer styles. That would be less enjoyable for us.
So the thing everyone seems amazed by when talking about Barrier is that you brew on a single barrel system. What does that mean? (as Evan adds a bunch of hops to the boiling kettle and stirs it up with a large paddle)
Evan: We are a single-barrel brewhouse. One barrel is the finishing volume of each brew. So for each brew we end up with about two full 50L kegs and one small.
The brewing here is really hands-on. We do everything ourselves. There’s basically no automation. There’s a lot of manual scrubbing and picking up kettles, bringing them over to the sink…Moving hot water from one place to another to another. Everything is done by hand. Our typical work day is about thirteen hours. We do about four brews a day. We work six days a week.
To be honest, we’re pretty maxed out in this space. We could add maybe one or two brews a week, but this is pretty much all this space can handle. We’ve got all our sacks of grains, hops, we’ve got seventeen fermenters…we’ll be moving to a bigger system soon so we can brew once per day instead of four times a day, and so we can automate some basic things to make it a little less work to produce a batch of beer than it currently is. Which is a lot.
Craig: Four brews a day is manageable, but we’re right at the edge.
Evan: Three is manageable. Four is the limit.
Craig: The first time we did three brews back to back to back it was a big deal for us and it was kind of stressful and felt like a long day, but we were happy we did it. Now, a triple brew day is a walk in the park. It’s great. It’s a breeze.
Evan: We try to save triple-brew days for Mondays so we can start the week fresh on an easier note.
So four brews on a typical day. Tell me a little bit about what has to happen during a typical brew.
Evan: We do as much as we can prior to coming in for a brew day. So we have two of our kettles full of water that’s been pre-heated the night before. It’s not exactly the temperature we need, but it’s closer than it would be if we started from scratch. We save 45 minutes or an hour by pre-heating it the night before.
We spend a lot of time moving hot water from one place to another here. From this kettle to that kettle. Filling this up, heating that up…it’s very labor intensive – lots of scrambling from one spot to another.
We have all the grain for all the brews weighed out and milled. Right over there you can see all our batches for Monday ready to go.
So we come in around 3:30am, turn on the burners, get the water up to the right temperature, and we get started by mashing in our first batch of the day.
What happened during that stage?
The mash is milled barley or grains – wheat, rye…it’s milled grain mixed with hot water. That’s the first step in making beer.
The grains you use in making beer are called malts. Malts are germinated and dried grains. There are base malts and specialty malts. Base malts contain most of your fermentable sugars, which are eventually converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. Specialty malts or grains are used to add various flavors, like toasty notes or roasty flavors. The specialty malts add some fermentable sugars, but they’re more for flavor and color.
The base malt adds flavor too – our base malts add some toasty and nutty notes. Some base malts are very neutral in flavor and color. It’s all a matter of preference. We use a few different base malts. We use a two-row pale ale malt called Maris Otter, which is floor malted. That means the grain is laid out over a floor at the malt house, and is manually turned with rakes for proper drying, and it’s manually checked for the proper germination. It’s more hands-on – more of a craft approach – than a lot of malt houses which put all the malt in big kilns for drying. The floor-malted varieties give a lot of flavor and a good amount of natural extract as well. We’re happy to have those extra flavors. We think they make a difference.
So for each beer we have a specific blend of base and specialty malts, and we mash the crushed grain in with hot water and let it sit for about half an hour. During that time, the hot water mixes with enzymes in the grain and reactions start happening that convert the natural starches to sugars.
After the mash, you have a liquid called sweet wort. Wort is the term for the solution that eventually becomes beer. We recirculate that sweet wort through the grain bed a few times, and we filter the grain husks and pieces of barley out by running it all through a screen at the bottom of the mash tun. Once we’ve recirculated the wort for twenty minutes or so, we start pumping the wort into the brew kettle for the boil.
How long is the boil?
Most of our beers are 60 minute boils. We have a few that we boil for 90. The length of the boil affects the flavor. Beers that are boiled longer tend to have more caramel flavors. You also evaporate more liquid so you end up with a higher sugar content which ends up meaning higher alcohol. So for an Imperial style beer you might want to do a two hour boil so you’ll evaporate more and have a denser solution and more sugar, which ends up meaning more alcohol.
During the boil we add our hops at various intervals, using various varieties depending on the beer. After the boil we whirlpool the brew with a paddle to get the hops to settle in a cone at the bottom of the kettle. You need the hops to settle because you want a nice clear wort.
After the boil we run the hot wort through the heat exchanger, which has cold tap water running through it. The cold water strips the heat out, cooling the wort to about 70-75 degrees. We pump it from the heat exchanger into a fermenter, and aerate it with oxygen which the yeast needs to metabolize the sugars from the malt into alcohol.
So now we’re in the fermenter. The first thing we do is we check the gravity – which is basically a sugar sample. We determine how much yeast to add to the fermenter based on the gravity reading. We take another gravity reading at the end of the fermentation, and we plug the starting gravity reading and the final gravity reading into an equation to come up with the final alcohol percentage.
So staying on top of the gravity is the key to consistency. That’s the mark of efficiency. Are we getting the sugar content we’re supposed to out of our grain? Are we boiling and evaporating enough liquid during the boiling process? It’s one of the key indicators we use to know we’re on the right track with each brew.
What happens if you’re off?
That never really happens. We’ve both been brewing for a while so between the two of us we’re able to consistently hit the gravities we want. We don’t get tired of it either. Every time we take a hydrometer reading and hit the right gravity we’re like, “YES!”
Craig: It is thrilling. Even though it’s supposed to happen, it’s still exciting when it does happen!
Can you tell me about a couple of your beers? What makes them unique?
Evan: Craig is the master beer discusser. Go Craig!
Craig: One that comes to mind is the Spelunker, which is a dark saison. It’s one of the more unique beers we brew. Neither of us had ever brewed a dark saison on a homebrew level or at Sixpoint. It’s not a very common style, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand you don’t have a lot to compare to in terms of inspiration or direction. On the other hand it leaves interpretation very open, which can be fun for the brewer.
The other thing that’s cool about that beer is that it’s a challenge to get a dark color in a beer without imparting a lot of heavily roasted flavors because you have to use a lot of dark roasted malts. You have to find the right balance in the combination of dark caramel malts to get just the right amount of chocolate or roastiness to help get that dark color but not take too much roasty flavor with it.
On the first batch we were happy with the results, but we both felt like there was just a little too much roasted flavor coming in. The roasted flavor is a pretty strong characteristic so it was kind of overpowering the yeast strain a little bit and with saisons the yeast is what the style is all about. It’s got a very complex yeast profile, so we wanted to make sure that was the focal point.
So we had to go back and do a little tweaking. In round two it came out exactly right. It’s kind of fun to take on that sort of challenge, do a few tweaks and get exactly what we were looking for by the second go round. So that one’s really nice.
Another cool beer for us is the Mare Undarum, which is a Belgian IPA. There are definitely more commercial examples of that out there than there are with the dark saison, but it’s still a broad style. It’s not a technical style in the beer judge realm — it kind of brings two opposing forces together — the American IPA which is a really aggressive, robust, intense hop-driven beer and the Belgian beers, which really kind of shy away from hops for the most part and focus much more on malt and yeast.
The challenge on that one was to try to marry those two characteristics and not make them compete and not have the hops overpower the nuances that make a great Belgian beer a great Belgian beer. So we had to find just the right ratio of hop flavor and hop aroma and hop bitterness that fit just right with that yeast character. If you had the Mare Undarum next to the Ruthless IPA or even the Bulkhead Red, which is a pretty hoppy red ale, it’s going to come across as a much more nuanced hop presence.
At first the regular IPA drinker might not associate it with the typical IPA, but that bitterness really comes up on you. It’s way more bitter than a Belgian brewer would ever make their beer. So that IPA characteristic comes through most in that bitterness you get in the end, that lingers on the palate, rather than coming from a big citrusy floral aroma up front.
We were really happy with how that one came out. It all goes really well together.
Tell us about the Cairn scotch ale. I love that one.
One of my favorites as well. There are kind of two categories of Scotch ales: ones that employ a smoky character and ones that don’t – that just focus on a deep rich malt flavor. It’s probably the maltiest beer that we brew, but it’s not necessarily the one I’d recommend to people who prefer malty beers, because instead of using bitterness to balance all that complexity we use a healthy dose of peat smoked malt. It’s malt from Scotland that’s smoked over the peat moss that’s abundant over there. It’s the same process, same malt the distillers make their Scotch whiskey out of — barley malt smoked over that wet dank peat moss.
There are two kinds of smoked malt: There’s peat-smoked malt from Scotland and the Rauch malt from Germany, which is smoked over a beechwood fire. That one has a more classic smoke profile, like a bonfire or campfire. You get that kind of wood burning smokiness to it whereas the peat smoke is earthier, muskier…it’s got a really unique flavor. Evan and I really love it a lot.
We’ve been surprised at how many people we wouldn’t necessarily peg as fans of that sort of beer love it and come in for growlers week after week. It has a lot more mass appeal than we thought it would.
So Evan, where are you from? How did you get interested in brewing? What led to Barrier Brewing?
Evan: I grew up ten minutes away from here, in Island Park. I live in Long Beach now, which is also about ten minutes away. I love it – it’s a beach community. My wife and I surf. It’s a great place for us.
I got interested in brewing about seven years ago. A buddy of mine went to Hawaii on his honeymoon, and while he was over there he visited Kona Brewing. He hung out with the guys there a bit and when he came back he was like, “We gotta start homebrewing! I was talking to some of the guys there and they were telling me all about it!…”
So we did. We got a kit, ordered a recipe, brewed it and it came out actually tasting incredibly decent. It tasted really good and the fact that it was intoxicating was pretty cool too. We did one more extract kit after that – where you start with pre-extracted malt – and then we just went straight into whole grain brewing – starting from scratch and making our own recipes.
My buddy kind of fell out of love with it. There’s a lot of work involved in whole grain homebrewing. But I loved it.
I had gone to school for environmental planning and natural resource management. I had always pictured doing something like working in National Forest in Montana or someplace like that. I could have done that, but I came back to Long Island. Came back home. I found a job that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d envisioned while at school – I was doing petroleum cleanups at gas stations. It’s a good cause, and you could feel good about the work at the end of the day, but you also smelled like gasoline all the time. I was getting tired of it.
At that point I’d been homebrewing for about three years, and I reached a point where I was like, “Alright – I want to do this seriously.” I wanted to open my own brewery.
So I contacted every brewery within driving distance – Southampton, Brooklyn, Sixpoint…Sixpoint was the first brewery to get back to me so I jumped at the opportunity. I gave notice at my other job and I interned there for six months doing grunt work – cleaning kegs, cleaning tanks. Then they hired me to work as a brewer. I was there for two years and I learned a lot. And that’s where I met Craig.
My wife Melissa basically supported us during that time. Her being able to pay the bills while I interned at Sixpoint is really the reason we were able to open Barrier.
So what did you learn at Sixpoint? Did it really take your skills to the next level?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Before that I was strictly a homebrewer. I knew I wanted to open my own brewery, and I knew I had to learn all about the commercial brewing process in order to do that. You need to really be hands-on to learning how to brew on a larger scale. You need to work with all the equipment, understand the process. You’re brewing, meeting your production levels, learning how to operate the big equipment. You really have to just experience it to learn it.
Sixpoint is a brewery that’s very creative. I don’t want to say it’s a homebrewer’s brewery, but they have a homebrewer approach. Really creative. They do a lot of different things and make a lot of really flavorful beers.
It was great getting to work with the brewers like Ian and Craig. We were all homebrewing and bringing in our brews and critiquing each other. Just being able to talk beer all day with those guys was really valuable.
So your goal all along was to open your own brewery — how did you know when you were ready?
I guess I never really thought I was ready. I was always upfront with everyone there so they knew what my plans were all along. At some point, the lease here became available. I had the lease, I signed it, and I said – I guess it’s time!
I started brewing here one year ago – in June 2010. It was just me through the end of the year. Craig started with me here in January.
When it was just me I was brewing five or six times a week, so about six barrels or twelve kegs a week. I was doing all the deliveries and everything. When Craig came onboard we pretty much tripled our capacity, but we still brew it, sell it and deliver it all on our own.
So Craig, how about you?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I went to Boston University and studied advertising and design. I got the opportunity to study abroad in London. I jumped at the chance and that’s where I really fell in love with beer.
Going to pubs is such a part of the culture there. It’s not about pounding beers on a Friday or Saturday night – it’s more about having your daily pint at the pub. I just loved the approach to it all, and I love that the beers are so low in alcohol that you really are appreciating them for the flavors. It really grabbed my attention.
I ended up going to a beer festival over there and that’s where I met brewers for the first time. I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but I was just surprised by how knowledgeable and passionate they were and how scientific but creative their approach to brewing was…I really gained a lot of respect for the brewers and the craft of brewing. I hadn’t really thought about it before.
So when I went back to Boston for my last year of college I was on this beer kick, and I realized that I still didn’t really know how beer was actually made. I went online, and a after few searches and clicks I found a book on how to homebrew and I thought, “Wow – that sounds really cool!” So I bought the book and I finished it in about two days. I found a local homebrew shop, got all the supplies, spread them all out on the kitchen table, and started following the instructions in the book, step by step. Somewhere around hour three something just clicked. I was just so fascinated and captivated by the whole thing.
Brewing involves so many things that I’ve always been drawn to. I like physical, manual labor. I’ve always had an interest in science and creation – creating something from scratch – something original. Brewing was all that and more.
I ended up meeting the Sixpoint guys at a beer festival when the brewery was about a year old. I knew I wanted to move to New York after school, and I was pretty sure brewing was what I wanted to pursue. So I developed a relationship with them and when I came down I visited the brewery, brought some homebrews, and started interning – offering free labor in exchange for knowledge and experience. All that led to an assistant brewer position, which eventually led to becoming the brewhouse manager and running the brewhouse operations.
And that’s where Evan and I met. I had a great time at Sixpoint. We both agree that it was a totally invaluable experience over there. When I saw that Evan was making really good stuff I realized I was was ready for a new challenge — I really wanted to be a part of it. So I ended up coming over here at the beginning of this year.
Did you move out here?
No I’m still living in Brooklyn. I’m in the South Slope right now. I love Brooklyn too much to leave. When I’m not at the brewery, Brooklyn’s where I want to be.
So what’s next for Barrier?
Evan: We’re trying to figure out what the next step’s gonna be. We would like to grow – to expand our brewing system. It would make our lives easier, let us get some more beer out there.
Craig: At this point we’re just excited that things are going so well. It’s nice that we can start planning to grow. But a lot of our effort now is just adding to the portfolio of beers and creating new recipes. That’s what we’re really motivated and excited about. We’ll be doing our eighteenth beer next week.
You know, it’s a pretty amazing time for craft brewing. Thankfully those really traditional brewers who’ve been doing things in a traditional way for centuries kept at what they did and now the American brewing revival and renaissance has kind of inspired people to look back at some of the older, rarer styles of brews and bring them back.
The American craft brewing scene now has positive repercussions and influences on a global level. Brewers in Scandanavia and Italy and Japan – places that weren’t necessarily known for making beer are making fantastic stuff. Even some of the Germans and Belgians who are kind of more set in their traditional approaches are experimenting with American hop strains and different types of ingredients. It’s really cool. We feel really fortunate to be a part of this whole revival.
Any funny stories stand out from the early days?
Craig: On Evan’s very first brew day here ever he got heatstroke.
Evan: Ha ha. It’s true. It was last June. It was like 99 degrees out. It was my first brew here and I was like, “I don’t want that door open – I don’t want mosquitos or bugs or anything getting in here.” It was 115 degrees in here. It was just me and I had to do everything I could to just keep brewing. When you’re brewing you kind of have to keep brewing until you’re done. As soon as I was done pitching the yeast and the barrel was full I just ran outside and pretty much collapsed. So you could say it was a bumpy start. There was a moment of doubt there. A moment or two. But we persevered and stuck through and things are going really well. We’re both very happy that people are enjoying the beer.
You can sample Barrier Brewing Co. beers at the following Brooklyn and Manhattan locations:
- 61 Local
- Bar Great Harry
- Beer Table
- Brouwerij Lane
- dba (cask only)
- Double Windsor
- Eastern District
- Mission Delores
- Mugs Alehouse
- Nunu Chocolate
- Pacific Standard
- Sycamore Bar
- Dive Bar (all 3 locations)
- Jimmy’s No. 43
- Pony Bar
- Rattle & Hum